There are over 1.2 billion young persons in the world today. It is estimated that youth make up 18 percent of the global population and 25 percent of the total working age population. About 90 per cent of young people are born in developing countries, where around half of the total population lives in rural areas. The highest average annual population growth over the last ten years was registered in Sub-Saharan Africa (2.5 per cent), the Middle East (2.2 per cent), North Africa (1.7 per cent) and South Asia (1.7 per cent). The growth of youth population is projected to reach its peak in 2035.
Of the world’s estimated 211 million unemployed people in 2009, nearly 40 per cent – or about 81 million – were between 15 to 24 years old, (ILO Global Employment Trends, January 2010). The youth unemployment rate rose drastically during the recent global economic crisis – more sharply than ever before – from 11.9 to 13.0 per cent. Unemployment is more widespread among young people living in urban areas. Unemployment is a less-affordable option for people living in rural areas, where most young workers have to accept any job in order to survive. In addition, an estimated 400 million youth worldwide – or about one third of all youth aged 15 to 24 – suffer from a deficit of decent work opportunities (Decent employment for youth is targeted in the Millennium Development Goals, Goal 1, target 1.B). The vast majority of jobs available to youth are low paid, insecure, and with few benefits or prospects for advancement.
Some 152 million young people, even if they have a job, live in households that earn less than the equivalent of USD1.25 per day (ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth, August 2010). Furthermore, in some countries there is an increase in worker discouragement among youth per capita that has led some young people to give up the job search.
In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, up to 70 per cent of youth live in rural areas and half of the young labour force works in agriculture (IFAD, 2007). Although employment in agriculture declined during the decade 1998 – 2008, it still remains the main source of employment for more than half of people working in East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Lack of investments, to improve decent work prospects for young people in rural areas, often results in lower living standards and de-population of rural areas. The scarce availability of decent work and decent living opportunities and the little hope of a better future are the main factors pushing youth to migrate from rural to urban areas or abroad. Often, youth migration to urban areas leads to unemployment, poverty and alienation and, in some cases, to anti-social behaviours or exploitation.